SHOW LOW, Ariz. (July 3, 2002) — As raging wildfires threatened the town of Show Low, Bill Young and his employees at Sunrise Tire Inc. scrambled to sell and install tires on the scores of trailers that swamped the dealership prior to the town's June 22 evacuation.
To Mr. Young, owner of the tire store, the sight of anxious, even panicked customers ready to “hightail it out of Dodge” could be likened to several well-known movie scenes.
“You would have thought Godzilla was coming through the canyon to kill everybody, and everybody was loading their stuff and heading out of town,” Mr. Young said.
In the Show Low area, about 30,000 people were evacuated due to the worst forest fires in Arizona's history, which have burned more than 450,000 acres. Dealerships including Sunrise Tire shut down June 22 and reopened for business July 1. The fires came to within less than a half-mile of Show Low but caused no destruction to the town itself, according to Mike Erickson, manager of Show Low's Big O Tires Inc. store.
Mr. Young and his employees, none of whom lost their homes to the blaze, know they're lucky. On June 19, Mr. Young received a call at his store from his wife telling him that they had two hours to evacuate their home in Linden, about a half-hour from Show Low.
He said that while leaving their home, “you couldn't even see the sun through the smoke and the flames. It was just unbelievable.”
Mr. Erickson said he and his family had an hour to evacuate the town on June 22 when the orders came via radio and television, but “we were prepared. We had packed up stuff and set it by the front door.”
Everyone who left was asked to put a white cloth out on their porch so that the 5,000 National Guardsmen who searched area neighborhoods would know that the homeowners had left, he said.
One of Mr. Erickson's employees opened his home—located on 10 acres about 30 miles outside of Show Low—to the rest of the dealership's evacuating workers.
“So we met up there the first evening, then we basically made sure that everyone had enough money till we could get back into the business,” Mr. Erickson said. Everyone then scattered to stay with relatives.
Mr. Young said he had just sat down at a restaurant in Show Low on that Saturday when everyone was ordered to leave but then had to race back to his store and hotel to load up his gear.
“The first thing you do when you're in my shoes is go back to your store, grab your computer hard drive and everything that's important to you as far as your business goes, and load it up,” he explained. “And I couldn't get out of town until 11:30 at night.”
Mr. Young and his family stayed with relatives in nearby Springerville. When he returned to Linden, he found his home undamaged while a house down the street was burned up. A pet cat the family was unable to locate prior to evacuating had survived by eating jackrabbits while elk were eating the grass in his yard.
All of Sunrise Tire's employees had houses to return to, he said. Like Sunrise Tire, none of Big O's employees lost their homes though a few had smoke damage, Mr. Erickson said.
“The way the fire was coming towards this town, we're just real lucky to actually have a store and a home to come to,” he said. “It was looking like, when we left, that there probably wasn't going to be a whole lot left.”
In Colorado, wild fires have ravaged 137,000 acres of timberland and have destroyed at least 133 homes. At press time, Tire Business was unable to reach dealers who might have been affected by that blaze.
The Big O store in Show Low lost an estimated $35,000 to $40,000 worth of business during the week-long shutdown. “This is our busiest time of the year, so (evacuating) was kind of painful,” Mr. Erickson said.
Sunrise Tire lost about $25,000 in sales, though Mr. Young noted that the flood of customers prior to the evacuation probably helped the dealership to break even.
However, not everyone completely left the town. At Future Tire Inc. in Show Low, where Mr. Young's sister, Cathy Huling, is store manager, the dealership opened temporarily during the evacuation period to service fire trucks.
Her son-in-law is a firefighter and notified all local departments to give her a call if they needed tires. She arrived at the store twice a day with two mechanics to service vehicles from command central, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Since reopening his business July 1, Mr. Erickson has fielded 15-20 calls from various fire departments and government agencies needing tires and expects to keep busy with servicing those vehicles in the next few days.
Ms. Huling said she isn't sure yet how many tires were moved during the evacuation week, but she noted that July 1 was “a record day” for sales as the dealership—which is owned by Mr. Young's father—continued to service emergency vehicles and other customers.
She and all employees returned to unburned homes over the weekend as well.
“I'm just so glad to be home,” Ms. Huling said. “I never thought I'd be so glad to come back to work.”